Super Bowl XLVIII as an expat

Like the 111.5 million other people in the United States, some friends and I stayed up late on Sunday night to watch the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Kick-off was scheduled for 6:30pm… but that’s east coast time in the US. For us, that meant the game wouldn’t start until around midnight our time, and we wouldn’t get back home until around 5:00am Monday morning! That fact certainly made us think twice about whether to watch the game or not.

Though I had to wake up at 8:00am the next day for class, we decided it would be worth it. After dinner, we headed to an Irish pub that we knew would be showing the game. (Bonus: the bar was off the plaza that is the main hub for the night buses. I know, we’re smart.) When we got there at around 9:30pm, it was pretty full because they were showing the Real Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao game. Both teams are traditionally very successful with strong followings in La Liga, and with the regular season coming to close, these last few games are pretty important. The two tied 1-1, but those goals did not come until well into the middle of the very close game and Bilbao’s tying goal only came after Ronaldo received a red card. The fact that Real did not win strengthens Atlético Madrid’s place on top of the standings with 3 more points than its closets rivals, Barcelona and Real; Bilbao remains in fourth place with only 43 points compared with Atléti’s 57. See, in Europe, even a blog post about American football isn’t complete without an update on European football.

Eventually most of the soccer fans cleared out, allowing us to score some nice tables for us and some of our other friends from the program; there were 15 of us all watching together, plus 2 who came at halftime, so we were a pretty big group. More Spaniards and expats came later, because some Europeans do indeed watch the game, but overall the Super Bowl did not really matter much to them. For them it was just another sporting event or one of many different competitions that die-hard “sports fans” were interested in like when Americans watch a big tennis match occasionally.

The game as a whole turned out pretty boring and uneventful, as most of you probably already know, and even the halftime show wasn’t that interesting. Normally, this would be fine since most of us only watch for the commercials anyway. Only one problem: it turned out that the version of the game we were watching was the Irish broadcast by Sky Sports, so we only saw European commercials! Luckily we had a good group with us–and the place tried to serve at least some traditional Super Bowl food–so we had fun anyway, but we were definitely disappointed, both in the game itself and in the lack of commercials.

It’s times like the Super Bowl where you can’t really help but feel a little homesick. While, as you can see if you’ve been reading my blog, I’ve definitely been having tons of fun living, studying, and experiencing life abroad in Madrid, I still love the United States, my family and friends there, and being American. When I’m experiencing all of this over here, life still goes on back home and there are things we miss out on.

Big culture events and holidays stand out for people living abroad. (Let’s face it: the Super Bowl is so American that it can totally be considered a holiday, plus the day after has the highest number of work absences). If we had been in the United States, it would have been really easy to figure out what to do to watch the game: we would have a list of viewing parties to go to, it would’ve been playing at basically any bar, or we could just stay in and watch it on Fox on our own televisions. Instead, we had to research places that would be open that late, had the ability to show the game, and also that had enough room for us. Not to mention the fact that none of those places had good wings or real game day food.

During the spring semester we don’t miss out on as many big American holidays as students studying in the fall. For them, their Halloween passes without dressing up or trick-or-treating and Thanksgiving without a big turkey dinner or even family and friends. These two holidays as we know them barely exist in other countries, but are huge in ours. Even if what we miss out on aren’t official holidays, the entertainment award show season and big sporting events like the Super Bowl act the same way. Their results fill almost all newspaper covers the next day, many people watch them (traditionally between a third and half of the country tune in to the Super Bowl), and everyone posts about them on social media for the days to weeks afterwards. American culture revolves very much about entertainment, and people aren’t really joking when they say that the day after the Super Bowl is like a holiday for us.

People here barely comprehend America’s obsession with the Super Bowl. Though sometimes people describe it as our version of the FIFA World Cup, it really represents much more than that. For example, we told our host family that watching the commercials was almost more important, more fun, and more talked about than the actual sport, and the concept just seemed so foreign to them! Many of those ads also celebrate being an American and really play up the patriot card, like Budweiser’s hero’s welcome, Jeep’s celebration of the wilderness, Coke’s multilingual rendition of America the Beautiful, AMFAM’s use of the American dream, and Chrysler’s argument for American-made automobiles. (Naturally, I watched most of the commercials online between my classes the day after the game to try to keep myself awake while running on only two hours of sleep.) My personal favorite, Budweiser’s Puppy Love, did not really play the patriot card, but I’m gonna go ahead and say that puppies are definitely an American institution. 😉 I didn’t even mention the halftime show concept to our host family, which as far as I know does not even exist in other countries’ sporting events, but is as important as the game itself in ours, costing millions more to put on and attracting the biggest names in music.

Despite the twinge of homesickness and nostalgia from the Super Bowl, I’m still very happy to be studying abroad and having an awesome time in my new city, Madrid, and in Spain as a whole. The culture, food, language, politics, history, sports, and even just daily life continue to excite us in new ways, and I’m enjoying my time here. Sunday night just really reminded me that as happy as you can be where you are, there will always be a part of you that misses home in some ways. While sometimes I think it would be really cool to come back here to live and work, there are other times like now that I realize how happy and lucky I am to live in the United States. I guess it’s pretty good to have that grounding moment every now and then reminding you to not forget your roots when you’re falling in love with a new country and way of life. Culture is such an interesting thing — it’s so ingrained in what makes us who we are that we don’t notice it until you take a look outside and reflect on it, but it can really surprise you when you do!

About Casey Brown

Student at American University in Washington, DC, studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. News addict. Traveler. Linguaphile. Volunteer. Techie. Movie lover. Networker. Learner. Casey.
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